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How crazy is peak summer? Two weeks in Lisbon and Porto with kids

We're planning on roughly 2 weeks in Portugal this summer (arriving in Lisbon 6/29 and likely basing ourselves in Lisbon for a week and Porto for a week). Family of 4 with kids aged 5 and 10.

So far we've had the luxury of visiting Europe during shoulder seasons, and as I'm looking into hotels, etc. I'm wondering -- how crazy will the crowds be this summer? And how well equipped are Lisbon and Portugal to handle them?

Obviously we haven't had a normal summer in a while, and can only hope this will be "normal." I guess what I'm looking for is insight on how manageable Lisbon and Porto are during peak season (how hard is it to get a table at a restaurant, does public transport get full, etc.?), and if there are specific sights or places we should avoid or ways to best navigate with young kids.

We're planning Lisbon and Porto because we don't want to rent a car and would rather do day trips than overnight in many places. Open to suggestions! Thank you!

Posted by
3830 posts

First half of July isn't peak summer yet; you should be fine!
The historic trams in Lisbon were full to the brim in an August 2019 visit, but there were workarounds (such as the 24 tram line which uses the same old rolling stock through an interesting neighborhood, minus crowds), and early July should be better than that. And good restaurants were easily booked same-day or day-before through the Thefork app, for instance, so that was not a hassle at all.

There are reports of Sintra being rammed in peak summer, but I have not seen it firsthand (in that same August visit, I found plenty of things to keep me busy for 4 days in Lisbon including Bélem (where crowds were really OK), and across the river in Cacilhas)

Posted by
422 posts

It's kind of an awkward spread age wise, what interests 5 year-olds probably wouldn't be as interesting for what a 10 year-old likes. But you already know that, so let's move on. We were there in August, and thanks to COVID, the crowds were sparse, and we waited only once to enter, even without pre-purchased tickets. We also heard no American English during the month. It was heavenly. This summer, though, I think it will be safe to expect bigger crowds. With a five and 10 year old in tow, I'd make a trip to the aquarium in Lisbon. Lisbon's a great walking city, but the five year old might find all the hills challenging. I don't think it would be easy for them to cover a lot of ground quickly. The trolleys are fun to ride. A cork farm in the Alentejo is kind of cool for kids -- the peeling bark and colorful trees would be unusual for them. We did our excursion from Evora, as we were staying there a few days, but there are probably tours from Lisbon. Sintra would be another fun destination. Take time to walk up the hill through the gardens. But do check the weather before setting out. The day we were there, it was sunny and 80 in Lisbon nd 50 and rainy/misty in Sintra. A sweater and umbrella would have been most welcome. Jerónimos is big and the interior could be an adventure for young kids, and the Belem tower is out there as well, as well as the huge monument to the discoverers. The Maritime Museum is interesting with lots of really large old boats, and it's out there too. The Gulbenkian probably would be dull for them, but if you want to see it, keep in mind there's a nice cafeteria-type restaurant that's inexpensive and it has an outside dining area in a small park. The Santa Justa elevator is fun to ride, but also an architectural site. Down at the Praca do Comercio is the Lisbon Story Center, which presents the history of the city through interactive exhibits and a movie of the 1755 earthquake shown in a theatre that rocks and rolls. The Carmo Convent and Sao Roque are interesting, and beautiful, and close to each other. The kids would probably enjoy the Brasileira Cafe, although it's pretty crowded and noisy. You can pick out your sweet before sitting down at a table. The National Coach Museum has dozens of coaches from various eras, all pulled by horses (and there's a life-size model of one). It's pretty big, so unless they are particularly taken, it could be a quick visit for you. São Jorge Castle doesn't have much going to it on the inside, but the outside would be fun and the views from up there are wonderful. In Porto, walking across the bridge to Gaia would be fun for them. Especially if you don't get out to a quinta or two, do one of the houses in Gaia. Graham's has a huge barrel in one of the aging rooms that is fun for photos. They'll find the huge barrels interesting. We did a Douro trip--drive up, cruise back---and frankly, I think they would find it boring. Once you've seen a quinta and the river, I think that would do it for them. If you decide to go, select a quinta that will give you the opportunity to walk the vines. You might want to take the train, cruise a bit, and train back. They voyage would probably be more exciting than the destination for kids that age. Another destination could be Matosinhos; the food is good, the trip is fun and there's a waterfront area. Both kids may enjoy the Bolsa. The mosaic floors and architecture are pretty. There were only 2 tours a day in English, though, so stop ahead of time to buy a ticket and get the tour. Leixões, north of Porto and in Matosinhos, is a large working port. I don't know how accessible it is, but for kids it would be fun for a short time to watch the cranes unload containers from ships. There's a McDonald's in the Ribeira that could be interesting. The sign is the same, the menu is a bit different (think Caldo Verde), it's in a funky building and there's an upstairs. Have fun!

Posted by
3 posts

@balso good to know we won't quite be at peak yet! And thanks for the tip on TheFork app.

@Wanderlust58 I really appreciate the level of detail you've provided! Thank you for helping me understand some of the sights in terms of what might work (and not work) with kids. I'd like to prioritize a few must-do activities that are either easy and engaging enough for us to do independently (like the aquarium) or something we might hire a private guide/transport for to give us flexibility. And what you said about not hearing American English -- for this first trip outside the U.S. with our younger daughter especially, our primary goal is to just "be" and let the kids experience a different culture.

Posted by
25 posts

The above comment mentions Matosinhos, which we didn’t visit, but closer to Porto and reachable by tram or bus is Foz de Douro, just at the mouth of the Porto River. There is a walking path along the beach, a lighthouse, big waves, beautiful views. A nice place for sunset and dinner, and an easy trip back to Porto.
Also in Porto, be sure to ride the funicular up or down from river level to the Cathedral on the hill. A favorite memory was seeing a large group of college students in the grass behind the Cathedral, all dressing in their black college robes - so reminiscent of a scene from a Harry Potter movie, but real life!